Lakewood Ranch golf course completes $950,000 improvement project.
It wasn't the marquee fix, but Jon Whittemore smiled as he crossed a bridge with his golf cart.
Those familiar with the Legacy Golf Club in Lakewood Ranch know a thumping sound, and some shaking of the cart, accompanies each trip across one of those bridges.
This was different. No thump ... thump ... thump.
Whittemore, the club's co-owner with Kevin Paschall, smiled as the cart quietly glided across the bridge. The wooden slats covering the bridge used to run perpendicular to the cart path. Longer wooden slats had replaced the old ones, running the length of the bridge and making for a smooth ride.
It's the attention to detail Whittemore and Paschall brought to the course they purchased in November, 2015.
Ever since, they have tried to solve problems that had led golfers to avoid the Arnold Palmer-designed course, which was lauded as one of Southwest Florida's top layouts when it opened in 1997.
Before Whittemore and Paschall bought the place for $3.4 million, it had three owners in the previous 18 months. The course suffered.
"The bones of the property are so good here," Whittemore said. "You don't have to mess with Mr. Palmer's great design. This is the best architecturally designed course in Southwest Florida."
It was a well-designed course some golfers called a "dogpatch."
That has changed since the new owners came on board in 2015. The fairways came back to life and the rest of the course followed. All except the greens. They had been neglected beyond repair.
Paschall had to withstand the complaints. "People would say, 'I love that place ... but the greens.'"
In June, Whittemore and Paschall closed the course to the public to begin a $950,000 improvement project. Of that amount, $600,000 was spent on the course itself and $350,000 was spent on other improvements, such as the interior of the clubhouse.
"This was the most significant reinvestment project since the opening of the course," Whittemore said.
Both Whittemore and Paschall played the course in 1997 and as Whittemore noted, there wasn't a weed on the course.
"We are trending that way," he said of matching the course's original condition. "We continue to be bullish."
The public will get its first look at the improvements Friday, Sept. 28 when it reopens to the public.
All 18 holes now feature TifEagle greens with TifGrand fringes. TifEagle is a bermudagrass variety developed at the Coastal Plains Experiment Station in Tifton, Ga. It is considered one of the premier green surfaces available. TifGrand fringes will offer golfers a friendly fringe that will allow shots to land just off the putting surface and still bounce on to the green.
"It was the best surface we could have had," Paschall said. "It's night and day from what it was."
Besides the greens, all green-side bunkers were reshaped with added drainage.
All the cart path bridges were resurfaced. In the clubhouse, tables were swapped out, carpet was added and the interior was painted.
Although it has taken three years, Paschall and Whittemore said they have followed their initial plan since the beginning.
"The first few years we wanted to repair the fairways and the rough," Paschall said. "This was when we projected to replace the greens. And all along we put money back into the course. That hadn't been done in the past."
Work in the future will deal mostly with aesthetics, along with some work on the driving range. But last week, with the course not having any play since June, it looked spectacular, even with sanded greens.
"This is a daily resort golf course," Venice's Paschall said. "This is exactly what Lakewood Ranch deserves."
Course Superintendent John Ward spearheaded the improvement project, Lakewood Ranch's Whittemore said.
"The best quote I can give you is that it came in under budget and ahead of schedule," Whittemore said. "Mother Nature dealt us a decent hand. We had rain in May and we got some dry weather in June."
Whittemore knows golfers will enjoy the new greens, which also were enlarged to return to their original size, and the improvements in the clubhouse. He hopes they eventually notice the little touches, such as the resurfaced bridges, a new ice machine for the players, and bottled water on the carts.
"There is no pride like owning your hometown golf course," Whittemore said. "Now we just need to get the support of the community."